With the 19 October federal election date looming just around the corner, the campaign trail is feverish with activity, more so than ever before. Political parties are constantly trying to nudge their way ahead of the opposition in an attempt to gain more than the approximate one third percentage of votes that were being predicted by polls. The latest strategy being employed, this time by the Conservatives and Bloc Québécois, is the widespread promotion of an anti niqab sentiment. The success of this tactic is quite surprising, because frankly, the niqab is not an issue.

Don’t get me wrong, I realize that for millions of people around the world and many in Canada, the niqab is an item of great personal importance. However, there is absolutely no reason for it to become the center of our political debate.  Doing so is merely a political wedge that gives political parties an opportunity to score quick points in an extremely tight race. And as Canadians, we should be smart enough to recognize the niqab debate for what it truly is – a political gambit.

Unfortunately, as recent polls show, this isn’t the case. According to a Nanos Poll released on 5 October 2015, the NDP has dropped down to 22.8% [1] as opposed to the 31% [2] of votes that was predicted by the same poll back on 24 September 2015. A significant portion of this decline can be attributed to the extreme backlash suffered by the NDP in their onetime stronghold of Québec – an incident that occurred after their stance on the niqab was questioned by the Conservatives during the French language debates on 24 September 2015 and 2 October 2015.

Unlike Stephen Harper’s Conservatives who hope to ban face coverings at citizenship ceremonies, the stance of Thomas Mulcair and the New Democrats are to continue with the status quo. The current policy, which has been recently upheld by the Federal Court of Appeal, requires anyone who wishes to gain citizenship to uncover their face in order to identify themselves, after which they can swear the citizenship oath in accordance with their religious beliefs. Not only is the NDP stance reasonable, but to do otherwise would be unconstitutional.

And yet, Canadians seem to be changing their political stripe over an issue that directly affects less than 1% of the total population. This is quite baffling because it shows that Canadians are getting more politically excited by inconsequential issues like the niqab rather than concrete issues that affect the entire population. Over the course of the first half of the 11 week campaign, when issues such as the economy, foreign policy, environment, taxes, and infrastructure were being discussed, most polls showed the parties being tied within the margin of errors of the respective polls. It was only when certain parties started putting more emphasis on non issues like the niqab (through political attack ads, media conferences, and leaders debates), that the political landscape gained momentum. This however is unfortunate, because the deciding factor in a federal election should not be one that affects the few, but rather, one that affects the many.

Thus, when Canadians go to the ballot boxes to exercise their democratic rights on 19 October, their choice of candidate should be influenced by the party’s stance on the core issues that run a nation, and not by trivialities.

Illustration: Sheri Kim

Illustration: Sheri Kim

[1] http://www.ctvnews.ca/politics/election/liberals-emerging-with-lead-ndp-sliding-conservatives-steady-nanos-tracking-1.2595031

[2] http://www.ctvnews.ca/politics/election/national-election-race-a-toss-up-for-14th-straight-day-1.2578544

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